The World Today

The World Today
Earth in 2013

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The New World

The map for the 3rd Edition. The Balkan Union is still in the rewrite since I figured that the Balkans would be the most repressed region of Europe and the nationalities subject to the German Austrians or the Turks would rise up eventually. Africa looks like an even bigger mess, but I think that has more to do with me not being able to draw up decent borders. Japan eventually lost control of northeastern Asia. I have no idea what they would call it. I refer to it as Kamchatka, but that's not exactly Nihon-go.

Friday, December 28, 2012

What's next?

With An Alternate History of the Netherlands published (and a few copies sold) I'm wondering what I should work on next. I still have Stardust: Mylo to finish, with one spell written 2005-7 and another one started up in late 2011, and that stalled again. I will finish this outline! After more than a thousand pages, I better. The problem is that the main character has risen to Field Marshall and has so many responsibilities that the adventure is lost. I'm thinking about turning the remainder into more of a collection of tales about other characters, though the main ones will still be there at key points.
What should I publish next? I"m looking to rewrite one of the Stardust stories (under a different name), as well as one of the alternate histories. Lion of the Sahel (about a surviving Songhai Empire) is one possibiliy, as is Russian Pacific (which is connected with Hawaii Partitioned), Andean Kingdom (the Inca become a protectorate of Spain instead of outright conquered), Volgastan (about a civilization on the Volga), Crown of the South Seas (that one's about an expanded Chile) or the German War (like Vietnam or Korea, except in Germany).

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

It published!

An Alternate History of the Netherlands (3rd Edition) is now on for the Nook, and should be up on Amazon for the Kindle shortly (they're taking longer for some reason). It's been a long rewrite, and I can think of a hundred other details I can add to it. And, I will eventually. Well, I hope it sells better than my short story.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Way ahead of schedule.

It's done. I finished the last chapter of the rewrite of An Alternate History of the Netherlands. Now all I have to do is print the whole thing, read it, fix any typos and then publish it. That might take longer than it looks, since I don't have a printer. As for chapter 8; there is no WWII this time around. It didn't make any sense that one should exist. Oh, the Commonwealth still fights Japan, as well as others for control of oil. Without a big war in Europe, technology advances a little slower, but the wide range of the Pacific propels technologies that would have taken longer otherwise.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chapter 7..... done

The problem with having a USA in the first two versions is that rewriting the Great War was a big pain. Chapter 7 covers the time 1888 to 1935, and saw the rise of new Dutch states. I'm not that satisfied with the rework and am going to have to take a good look at it. Well, after I finish the whole thing of course. Chapter 8 will have to be so radically different because of how far the AHN world has diverged that I might have to start from scratch. Well, mostly from scratch. There's still the war against Japan in the Pacific, but no WWII. Without that war, technology is going to get slow in some respects to our own world.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Chapter 6: fin

I'm on a roll. Chapter 6: The Four Corners of the World, is finished. It wasn't that difficult, since much of the previous edition material did not need a whole lot of editing. I cover the far flung colonial empire of the Netherlands. The biggest difference would be India, which is confined to the south and east of the Subcontinent, with a Mughalstan still hanging on in the north.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Chapter 5 complete.

Being mostly broke and stuck at home on Thanksgiving (can't go nowhere until payday) I decided on a marathon typing session, in where I completed Chapter 5. Revolutions is a familiar enough name, but this time around it's different. No Amercian Revolution, no Napoleon, still a French Revolution, but that takes place after the Spanish Revolution in the 1830s. This chapter covers the changing world, from Brazil to the UP to New Amsterdam and how industrialization is changing the face of Dutch society back in the United Provinces. Any one of these chapters I could write enough for a seperate book, but as seeing I want to have An Alterante History of the Netherlands to be a short history than anyone can read (without falling asleep), I have to pick and and abridge. Besides, there's always a 4th Editon... unless I die, which would really infuriate me if that happened before the 3rd Edition was complete. I don't like leaving things unfinished.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Chapter 4 complete

This rewrite is taking longer than I first planned. The 4th Chapter, named Hostile Takeovers is now complete. The name comes from the United Provincs taking over French colonies, British colonies (well, the VOC did that) and then VOC holdings. History branches away from our own far more in this version. After the War of the Spanish Succession, there is a War of the British Succession, which is mostly another British civil war. That was eventually turns into a Third Anglo-Dutch War, where the Dutch make sure that the House of Stuart-Oranje retains the British throne. The Dutch throne went to William and Mary's eldest son while the British one went to the second born. And, despite as much flak as I've received for it, the Swedish Royal House still takes the crown of the Tsar. Sweden-Russia will eventually be a dual monarchy, like our own history's Austria-Hungary.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Chapter 3 complete.

Chapter 3 of my rewrite of An Alternate History of the Netherlands is complete. It covers the Anglo-Dutch Wars (the first two) and ends with England and the United Provinces sealed in an alliance. The ending is different from the last edition. Mary II is proclaimed queen by Parliament, but William II does not become King William III. He's king the same way Phillip II was king when Mary I was on the throne. In name only, and through his wife. After all its religious strife and civil wars, the Dutch consider the island of Britannia more trouble than it's worth, and the Staaten-Generaal is quite content to leave it alone with a friendly regime in place.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Chapter 2 is finished.

Chapter 2 of An Alternate History of the Netherlands (3rd Ed) is complete. I've added a little and trimmed a little. One of the new things is a brief summery of Abel Tasman's circumnavigation of Australia. Thus the easy part of the new edition is complete. From here on out, it's going to start diverging more from our own history. I have no idea when Chapter 3 will be finished; obviously after I'm done moving. I figure at the rate I'm poking along, I should have the whole thing finished early next year. So as long as the world don't end in December, I'm aiming to complete it in January.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Chapter one complete.

I've began work on a third edition to An Alternate History of the Netherlands. The easiest part is complete, chapter one. In this edition it will cover 1569-1609, and I call it easiest because it required the least amount of rewriting. The whole story will be overhauled and rewritten in several cases. The purpose is to make it more realistic in terms of the impact that the United Provinces would have on history. It won't be posted on the website. Instead, I plan to turn it into an ebook, and hope it will sell a bit better than The End. It will also focus on Dutch history and the rest of the world will be more background. Obviously I'll have to explain the whole Sweden-Russia thing, and how the House of Wittelsbach replaced the Romanovs. I suppose a strong Dutch monarchy itself would alter the dynastic flow of European history as well.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Day 11

My planned departure for the mountains was delayed by a sloth. At least their hands and claws remind me of a sloth—in fact, that is about the only part of the animal that is in the leastways sloth-like. I took one last look around my lander before lifting off, only to discover this Pseudosloth sleeping beneath it. Though the lander was once an ancient heavy lifter, its engine was one of the first things replaced. I could have easily lifted off without harming the creature thanks to the propellant-less Space Drive. Instead, I decided to try and capture this creature and study him while in the mountains. I doubt a week of captivity would harm the creature. The blank look in its open eye left me suspecting the creature probably would not have a clue what was happening.

            What was once the cargo hold of a heavy lifter is now an extensive biology lab. I adapted one of the isolation labs to serve as a terrarium for the Pseudosloth. I even went as far as to spend an hour bringing in sand and rocks for the creature. No point in unduly stressing it out. Since I planned to bring in specimens long before I arrived, I included adjustable lights within each chamber. With a simple command, the ship’s AI toggled them from the yellow/white light of Sol to a dimmer, redder light more comfortable to the creature. Every time I stepped out of the brightness of my lander into the relative dimness of the Sun Spot Desert, I feel more like I am entering a cooler place. Only looking at the temperature gauge on my E-suit’s HUD reminds me that this desert is closer to boiling than freezing. I left the isolation chamber at around three hundred forty Kelvins.

            Catching the Pseudosloth proved far simpler than I expected. The creature paid little attention to me. Whatever smells that remain on my E-suit from inside my own atmosphere meant very little to the animal. When my boot crunched on a particularly brittle piece of stone, the Pseudosloth’s head bolted straight up. Its eyes scanned all around me, but never once focused on me. Billions of years of evolution never prepared any creature for an alien encounter. Even a species as intelligent as my own (or so we claim) had its own difficulty in wrapping out collective heads around the concept of life off Earth.

            The Pseudosloth is a rather rotund creature, with a fat tail. I suspect, and later confirm, the fat tail is just that; a fat reserve. Lying down, the animal does not appear nearly as large as its true size. As I step even closer, the narrow (and sharply beaked) head finally turns my way. The dull eyes register that something is approaching, but the animal’s small brain cannot understand the nature of the danger. As the Pseudosloth stands, I am surprised to see the animal is as tall on all fours as I am standing up. I begin to wonder if the isolation chamber will even hold the fellow.

            It would, but the fit would be like a turtle in a glass bowl; functional and not as comfortable as I would like. Misjudging the animal’s size, I back off for a moment and reevaluate my strategy. An animal lighter than me I was prepared to haul inside. E-suits might not be powered armor, but their mechanical assistance would allow me to carry my own weight. The Pseudosloth is probably twice my size. Too bad teleportation was physically impossible; it would be a really useful tool at moments like this—even if it did kill the original in the process.

            In the end, all those worries proved themselves moot. When I made another, more assertive move on the Pseudosloth, it might not have understood the nature of the danger, but it understood danger stood before it. I never would have imagined a creature that knuckle-walked could move so fast. Perhaps Pseudosloth was not the best name for the creature, but I could not help but make the association with the extinct ground sloth. Oh well, I still have more than two months left on the planet, and I am bound to capture a live specimen sooner or later.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Day 8

I know it's not much in the way of alternate history, but here's more about Hypnale.

Day 8

            The Hunting Pod moved little since its successful hunt. According to the airborne probe, nothing remained of the animal I saw earlier. The probe did observe some activity in the oasis. As much as I would like to get a sample of the water, I dare not move hastily. Just because my E-suit suffered no damage this time, that did not mean I could get a spear through my faceplate in the next encounter. The heavy elements in my body (to say nothing of the E-suit) would be quite lethal to the Pod. Too much time would be wasted properly mapping the Pod’s sensory network. I am still unsure if the Pod detects its prey by physical contact with small branches, or by vibration.

            Just as I sat down to begin my breakfast; one of the consoles began to beep. I ordered the probe to also keep an eye out for anything out-of-the-ordinary. In the Sun Spot, that amounted to anything large on the move. When I checked the read out, I certainly did not expect to see an animal the size of an elephant. Perhaps the Sun Spot is not that different from the Kalahari after all. The probe did not detect just one of these animals, but three of them, all moving towards the oasis.

            I quickly slip into my E-suit and step outside for a closer look. I have to call up another probe, this time a hovering probe from the University of Montana. The zoology department of the University was as small as the area’s population, which forced them to turn to machines to aid in their research. Their hover probes could not stay aloft for months (or years) on end like aerial probes, but they could keep pace with the swift animals of the vast Canadian tundra. I somehow doubt these duck-billed beasts will be as swift as a Pronghorn.

            My first impression of the animals was that they looked like a cross between long extinct duck-billed dinosaurs and camels. Or perhaps the humps on their backs were closer in shape and form to that of a bison. Either way, they did store an abundance of fat on their backs. Their broad, flat snouts looked perfect for plowing through sand. Their lower jaw sagged quite a bit, almost like a pelican. I cannot picture any fish surviving long in a desert spring, so I will rule that out until proven otherwise. I wonder if they are used for digging.

            The animals’ tan hide stick out against the reddish sands. They were easy enough to spot out in the open. The aerial probe has given no indication of predators in the area, but even if they hid in the darkest corners of the eternally lit oasis, they would be hard pressed to take down an animal of this size. The hover probe begins to stream back its findings to my computer gauntlet. They were cold blooded, which was hardly a surprise. Any animal living in a region of constant temperature need not worry about maintaining their own, save for shedding excess. Sand particles caking their hides led me to believe the animals might escape overheating by burrowing somewhat. Their shovel-like duckbills should have little problem with that.

            The beasts proved me correct once they started digging for food. They used their jutting lower jaw to scrap a groove into desert sand. Groover is what I shall call them, at least until I consult my taxonomy files to find a smashing scientific name for them. I could tell the Groovers were not what one might call discriminating eaters. If it was plant, they ate it. The hover probe scanned the lead Groover’s head. They have many rows of teeth-like structures in their mouths. Initial scans puzzle me for a moment. I would be unable to tell without dissecting one, but their teeth are similar to the incisors on rodents. No, they are in no way genetically related to mammals (a basic scan of the skin can extract that much genetic information), but rather their teeth grow constantly, probably throughout their lives. Constant grinding of roots and tubers covered in sand would quickly wear down conventional teeth, and leave most Groovers to eventually die of starvation or hunger-related illnesses.

            One Groover took a bite out of a Hunting Pod’s spear-branch. A second branch quickly lanced out towards the Groover. The blow struck the animal squarely, but lacked the force to penetrate the hide. The animal showed no sign of discomfort save an annoyed snort. These certain explain some of the damage I have seen on a few Hunting Pods; they were partially eaten. To their credit, the Groovers did not take more than a few bites from each Hunting Pod. They did not eat in any one place for more than a few minutes. Their grooving did disturb another species of animal that I had no idea even existed.

            The new animal’s eyes sat on top of their heads, much like a frog, or perhaps a salamander. Given the way they wiggled out of the Groovers’ path, the latter struck me as apt. A mound on top of their head, between and ahead of their eyes, housed a pair of nostrils. This would allow the animal to remain underground for most of the time. I dub thee Sanphibians. I directed the hover probe to take a look at these Sanphibians. My first impression was one of predator. Their mouths housed at least a hundred sharp, spike-like teeth. Those teeth looked more suited to grasping than tearing, and the set of jaw muscles on the Sanphibians meant they might be able to simply crush their prey. They reminded me of bug-eating animals back on Earth. The oddest trait of the Sanphibians was spines protruding from their back. The hover probe’s sensors screamed venom, but I could not confirm that without an actual specimen.

            One of the red-skinned creatures wondered too close to the water. It turned out to be a fatal mistake. Like a flash of lightning, a larger animal launched itself from the water and clamped down on the Sanphibian. Neither I, nor the hover probe, could glimpse the ambush predator for more than a second. Its head comprised thirty percent of its body, and was lined with serrated teeth. I must admit, I was most astonished to find anything like a crocodile residing in the middle of a desert. Who would have thought an aquatic ambush predator could evolve here. Maybe this was just a land predator trying to cool off when opportunity knocked.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Day 7 at Hypnale

Day 7

            After two days in operation, the airborne probe finally located something large and alive. I order my lander to move a hundred kilometers starward towards the probe’s last location. Further reports from the probe indicate a natural spring in the desert. If life on Earth taught me anything, it was that where there is water there is life. The trip was short and uneventful. I spent a few minutes checking out the countryside at one of the consoles. I am certain a geologist would find the desert fascinating, but without any life, the land beneath the sun holds little interest.

            When I land at the spring, I am not greeted with a palm-infested oasis. Instead of tall trees, the only plants I see are either small, purple shrubs (rather similar to thistles) or these giant pods with spikes protruding from the ground around them. Upon landing, I am quick to scoop up another soil sample, as well as clippings from the thistles. I decided to avoid the pods until further observation. There is something about those spikes that look ominous. My instincts tell me to avoid them, and seeing how they have saved my life on more than one occasion, I am inclined to listen.

            Without surprise, I learn that the soil is teeming with microbes. Their basic structure is not that different from microbes found on Earth or Europa. Even the genetic material within the nucleus is arranged in a double-helix. I will need a more detailed scan to determine just what Hypnalaforms use for genetic material. The plant’s cellular structure is slightly different from what we know on Earth. The cell walls and chlorophyll are as familiar as my own face, but the secretions are very alien. As I postulated upon learning of the planet’s acid rain, plants on Hypnale do have a thin coating to protect them from the rain. The coating is rather thin on the thistle, but given the vanishing low chance of rain in these parts, that is hardly surprising.

            My first animal came into view just before lunch. It was house cat sized, and covered in scales the color of red sand. The animal moves cautiously towards the water, expecting an attack. At the time, I was outside searching for any bones. Watering holes have always been magnets for predators on Earth. It was a reasonable assumption here, yet no bones. Sensors detected traces of cartilage and skin, but not a single bone. My expression was one of major disapproval. When I ran a series of meteorological scans in the morning, there was no sign of rain lately. In fact, it would not rain often enough anywhere in the desert for the rain to eat away the bones.

            Perhaps I could study this animal if predators lurked nearby. They did, and came in the most astonishing form. I first noticed the spear thrusting through the air when I spotted a blur from the corner of my eye. In less than a second, the animal went from cautious to dead. The spear was far larger than anything a human could hurl. Alas, it did not come from any megafauna. Instead, the spear belonged to megaflora. I watched in morbid and scientific curiosity as the spear swung upwards towards the top of one of the stationary pods. With a jerk, the impaled animal slipped from the spear and into the pod.

            What could only be a branch of this predatory plant quickly returned to its place in the sand? I have observed a few carnivorous plants on Earth while in college, but never have I seen one make such a complex move. A Venus flytrap’s “mouth” was little more than a pair of specialized leaves. All they did was open and close. I move closer to the Hunting Pod as I dubbed it to find out if it is plant, or a stationary animal similar to an anemone. If a plant, I could only suspect the Hunting Pod hunted for nutrients it could not extract from the soil. Perhaps those Hunting Pods further from the spring even extracted their water via hunting.

            I took one step too close to the Hunting Pod in my search for knowledge. I was nearly knocked off my feet as a spearing branch glanced off the composite hide of my E-suit. I jump back to catch my breath, and try to slow my heart rate. Never before that moment was I so thankful for Hypnale’s toxic atmosphere. If I made the same approach in shirt-sleeves, I would be dead now. As soon as my wits return, I take up a new position just outside of range of the Pod. At least I hope I am out of range.

            I call up a full-scan on my E-suit’s computer gauntlet. The suit’s built in scouter runs every known scan at every known frequency on the Pod. All my eyes can tell me is that they are black (scans say they are actually ultra-violet) and that spears radiate outward. Smaller vine-like structures also radiate outwards, reminding me of the strawberry plant of all things. I call in the airborne probe to get a top view at the Pod. The trunk of the Pod turned out to be a hollow pit full of digestive juices. The animal whose death I witnessed was nowhere to be seen. I seriously doubt they could breakdown their prey that fast; to I conclude the animals are simply denser than the juices.

            The Hunting Pod had enemies of its own. The spear-branches form a radial pattern around the trunk, but within a minute of scanning, I already spotted three branches missing. Not only that, but the Pod appeared to have damage on its trunk. While I was searching for bones without success, I also failed to discover any foot prints. I find it difficult to believe that large herbivores could survive in the desert. In school, I was told that elephants roamed what was once the Kalahari Desert, and that desert was almost as dry as the Sun Spot.

            I shut down my E-suit’s scouter and decide to return to the ship. I further neglect my E-suits structural integrity at my own peril. The spear did not penetrate it, but it would not be wise to assume there is no damage. The airborne probe can hover above the Pod and continue observations while I checkout my hardware and run a little analysis on the data already collected. With a little childish delight, I find that I can hardly wait to see the look on some of the older scientists when I show them the new heights of plant evolution. If nothing else, my first encounter with the Hunting Pod will make for a good story.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Day 5 (on Hypnale)

Day 5

            Landing proceeded as smoothly as I planned. The ship had zero problems in landing itself. If it had, then I would be quite crossed for a while. Following that spell, I would likely be dead. For centuries ships have either landed or docked themselves, or participated in a semi-autonomous fashion. Despite the fact that there is no way an AI can screw up a landing, some humans prefer to take the controls themselves. They claim that it makes the ship feel like an extension of their own body. As far as I can tell, controls feel like controls; plastic, glass and composites.

            My survey of the planet begins in the Sunward Hemisphere, directly beneath the sun. I dubbed it the Sunspot Desert. A quick scan of the landing zone indicates the temperate can exceed three hundred fifty Kelvins. If life on Earth taught me anything, it is to expect life in unexpected places, even a desert that approaching the boiling point. Looking at the baked desert beneath the pink sky, I wonder if any water is to be found. I might have to deploy a drill probe.

            As soon as the lander was safely on the ground, I prepared for my first excursion. The Sunspot Desert was hotter than any on Earth, but at least here I will not have to worry about acidic rain. A standard environmental suit, a design that has existed for centuries, should have no problem radiating off any excess heat. After all, they were designed to operate the surface of Mercury, which ranged plenty hotter. It could probably handle the heat of Venus, but anyone fool-hearty enough to stroll the surface of that planet would need a specialized E-suit to handle the pressure.

            I launch the first of many probes. For such an open space as a desert, I chose one of the aerial probes, a simple balloon design from the University of Nairobi. Zoologists in East Africa used the design for observing the wildlife of the savanna. I do not expect to see any lions or antelope running around the desert, but the probe will zoom in on any fauna out in the open. My first thought would be to wait for nightfall, for that is what one would do on Earth in a similar setting. Lalande long since liberated Hypnale from the curse of day-night cycles. One of the reasons I chose the Sunspot Desert first was to studying just how life copes with it being high noon all the time.

            After I launched the probe, I decided to take a step outside. I have no way of telling just how long the probe will take to find anything. It might not find anything in this part of the world. While I wait, I might as well take some soil samples. I might not be as intimate with an E-suit as a Spacer, but I have no trouble donning the suit. I remember watching other researchers at Europa Station putting on an E-suit for the first time. I wonder if I was as equally clumsy. E-suits are solid pieces with servo-enhanced limbs. Not quite powered armor, but I imagine such formidable weapons would not be necessary here. At least I hope so.

            As soon as I step into the suit the HUD on my visor comes to life. Standard E-suits display nothing all that exotic, just information such as temperature, pressure, atmospheric composition, and most importantly, remaining power on the life-support system. I worry more about power than I do air. Millions of nanites inhabit filters in the suit, taking the carbon dioxide I exhale and breaking it down into carbon and oxygen. The carbon is stowed away for later removal. The best attribute to these nanites is that water in high concentration will deactivate them, so nobody needs to worry if they accidentally inhale the machines.

            There was absolutely no prompt or pageant when I stepped foot on Hypnale. My feelings were mixed to the occasion. On one hand, I was the first human to ever visit the planet and was hoping for a little fame. On the other hand, I had approximately three months to survey an entire planet and decided I should get down to work. No famous first words no live press conference, just me with a long scoop. Despite myself, I did take a moment to just observe the strangest world I have yet to visit.

            The bleached red-white rocks and pink sky were not the strangest sights on the planet. Actually, the strangest sight was not even on the planet. Directly overhead throbbed Lalande 21185, larger than life. I have never seen a sun take up so much space. Though it is much small in Sol, in terms of volume as well as mass, Hypnale orbited just under zero-point-one AU. Even then, it was far dimmer than what my biology evolved. I could safely look at the sun here. In a sense, it was more like looking at the never-blinking eye known as Jupiter from one of its moons than looking at a real star. It pumped out plenty of heat to compensate. My HUD displayed a temperature just twenty degrees shy of boiling.

            Without my E-suit, it would be rather intolerable. Even with it, I lose my enthusiasm for the desert. Nothing stirred within visual range, nor did it within range of my suit’s sensors. Is this part of the world truly lifeless? The only way I would solve this question today was with a sample of the soil. I scoop up several hundred milligrams and retreat to the confines of my lander. The soil analysis shows the dirt to be nearly desiccated. It had not enough moisture to even form a drop of dew. There were but a few traces of organic compounds, but no lifeforms. My first sample of Hypnale has proven a total bust. How can I put into the words the frustration I felt of being on a planet I know has life, but cannot find even a microbe? I decide to give the airborne probe a day or two to survey the area before moving starward; east just does not seem to be an apt direction on a planet without day and night.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Day 4 for Hypnale

Day 4
            One plus to be revived so late I discovered was that time flew much faster. After four days out of the pod, Venture Star was making its closest approach to Hypnale. They would not arrive anywhere near orbit, for their destination was a Lagrange point between the star and its third planet. They needed a place with plenty of raw material as well as open space for the warp gate. The asteroids there lacked heavier elements, but there should be more than enough aluminum, titanium and other light metals for the Spacers’ desires.
            The whole system was low in metals; hardly surprising given the low metalicity of Lalande. Though Hypnale was much larger than Earth in respect to volume, it was far less dense. Surface gravity would not be too alien for my Terran origins. It will feel much more like home than the half-gravity on the ship. Beyond that—Hypnale will prove to be a very alien world. As my time for launch approached, I begin to wonder if my time studying tubeworms on Europa has adequately prepared me to launch a major expedition over the surface of an entire planet. Eight light-years from home and a couple hours from landing was poor timing for a case of cold feet.
            Venture Star’s crew aided me in preparing the lander for its departure. Or rather they aided in preparing my own departure. I never did fit in on this ship. Even if I had not been born and raised on the surface of Earth, I doubted I could have fit int. Spacers were such a close-knit and closed off society. I could spend a lifetime amongst them and I have the suspicion that my grandchildren would be considered outsiders.
            The Captain was kind enough to visit me before I departed. “We’ll have the gate functioning within three months. If you’re not back in space by then, you can wait for the next ship to pick you up.” I do enjoy a good pep-talk.
            I wonder when the next ship will arrive. One thing was certain, it would not be the shipload of colonists I feared when I first set forth on this decades’ long journey. I suppose it could be worse. If this were an earlier epoch of history, the ship would be full of refugees, and they would not care how toxic the planet is, as long as their neighbors did not try to kill them. Months will probably pass before the next ship arrives. If academia decided to move at an even more glacial pace than usual (I should know, being part of it) then it might even be years.
            Months I could probably manage. I packed more than enough supplies onboard my lander to last for the three month period the Captain so graciously granted. As for years—the only way I could survive for years is if life on Hypnale were metabolically compatible with me. Euroforms have proven most incompatible with terraforms, and I see little reason why hypnalaforms would be any different. I wonder if I could grow any crops in Hypnale’s soil. Obviously I would have to bring it into the ship and a safer environment before I could make any attempt.
            One of the bonuses of living on my lander is that I never have to worry about packing. While on Venture Star, I do not have to worry about keeping the place tidy for company either. The few visitors to bless my dwellings did so for business, not pleasure. As the technicians left, I thanked them for their services. Their only response was a simple nod of acknowledgement. I gave up trying to get additional heating units installed. The lander was always chilly, having not fully warmed up after years at interstellar lows. I suppose having it the same temperature as space did prevent the fuel from boiling away. Unlike a starship, I am not blessed with infinite (or as near to infinite as to make little difference) energy. Sooner or later, Spacers will put vacuum-fluctuation generators on their city-ships and will then up and leave the Sol System for good.
            Their constructions last so long that the only thing I can think of holding them back is fuel. Surely they would not need any replacement parts until they reached a new star. My own people pride themselves in building to last. Though it took centuries to build, the orbital towers and ring around Earth have lasted for over a thousand years, and with little need or replacement. City-ships, on the other hand, we designed to last tens of thousands of years. Excessive perhaps, but it made more sense than say building a dam upriver from a major population center and design it to last only fifty to a hundred years.
            The order to launch came shortly after lunch. Launch might be too strong of a word. My lander was crammed into one of the Venture Star’s holds, so when the time comes, I am simply jettisoned like so much refuge. As the clock ticked away (Spacers do not believe in countdowns, something about them being a melodramatic waste of time) the only thing I could think about was weightlessness. I fervently hoped that the gravity field would not fail. I have only been weightless a handful of times in my life, and each time my stomach did its best to turn inside-out. It even succeeded on occasion, resulting in my last meal floating around the cabin.
            Since what was once a command deck is as near spotless as I can make it, I really do not feel like cleaning off the consoles during my flight to Hypnale. As I said, it was once a command deck where several crewmen were needed to operate the ship. Since all I was planning to do was take-offs and landings, I only need a single console to control the ship. Even then, I am pretty much telling the ship what to do, and the software takes care of the rest. I remind myself to be careful of what I tell the ship since AIs are known to be stupid at times. Do not misunderstand me, the AI has a vastly greater processing power than the human mind, but the old boys have such narrow minds.
            The ‘launch’ was even less dramatic than the lack of countdown. With my own space drive already powered up, I did not even feel the kick my lander was given. On the display screen, I watched as the interior of a cargo hold quickly gave way to the blackness of space. Stars are so much easier to see here than they are back home. The red dwarf sitting at the heart of the system is so faint that a planet at one A.U. might well be as cold as Neptune. Once I am clear of the ship, and by it, I give the order for the lander to fly towards Hypnale. As slow as the lander lumbers forward, I reckon I should be in orbit early tomorrow morning.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Hypnale, Day 3

Day 3

            Today was uneventful, yet far from boring. As I began to study the data on Hypnale that came in while I slept, I received a most pleasant surprise. Venture Star picked up a data stream from Earth. This meant little to the Spacers save what useful information they could mine from it, but it meant a great deal to me. I want to get on the line and beam back everything I learned about Hypnale (including my right to register the new name), but hold off for the time being. If the warp gate works as advertised, then delivering all of the findings in person would be much quicker.

            There was little actual news of Earth itself. Terran society has changed little in centuries, and has certainly not changed in the fourteen years since the broadcast left Earth. I suppose it is the thought that counts. It gives me such a warm feeling to know that Earth has not given up on us. They knew when we would arrive and timed their transmission to hit us the moment the crew was revived. Ok, they were a few days late, but so what? A colleague from Recife was kind enough to forward my mail through the data stream. I have no idea what sort of strings he had to pull to achieve that, but I can imagine that a few flaming hoops were jumped through.

            I had to invest an hour just wading through it to discover the few items that were not junk. Over a decade worth of backlogged periodicals. A new planet was discovered orbiting Delta Triangulum. This in itself would not be all that exciting, if not for evidence of life. The planet’s water vapor content was low, so it was likely an arid world similar to the one around Ross 248, only much larger. The new world was interesting, if only in an academic fashion. Any voyage there would have to wait tens of generations—to Delta Triangulum I mean. Ross 248 might be reached in only a few generations once the warp gate proves itself.

            I would not mind taking a look at Ross 248 b. It was a tidally locked world like Hypnale, but by all indications was almost as dry as the Atacama. There was a sea on the planet, that much was sure, but spectral analysis insists that it covers less than twenty percent of the surface. It makes Mars look like downright humid in comparison. Alas, the arid world will be the problem of another lifetime. I curse the speed of light, and not for the first time. There are just so many wonders in the universe that I will never see. I cannot help but feel a massive injustice in that.

            The lack of any familiar news distresses me. Are all my relatives dead, or do they just assume that I am. Perhaps they simply did not take the speed of light into account and are just now sending messages. I do not take the assumption of my death personally. Considering the fate of Trail Blazer it would be little wonder if they did not hold a funeral in my honor as soon as Venture Star began its acceleration away from Sol. I hope they recorded it, for it strikes me with a morbid curiosity to see my own funeral.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hypnale, Day 2

Day 2

            I spent the better part of two days going over the data Verner gave me, as well as more recent scans. Hypnale continues to surprise me at every turn of the proverbial page. Lalande 21185 b was such a mouthful, I just had to give the planet a proper name. Considering just how toxic the atmosphere would be to me, I felt that naming the planet after a genus of the viper family to be very appropriate. It has a nice ring to it too, more so than whatever mythological name it will eventually end up wearing. Astronomers lack imagination when it comes to naming things.

            Along with toxic air, Hypnale has plentiful acidic rain. When I say acid, I do not mean the slightly acidic rains of the long past industrial age; I am talking about the sort of rain that dissolves rock (the paleontologists back home will not like this one bit). The chlorine in the atmosphere undergoes some chemical reaction to give the rain a detectable amount of hydrochloric acid. Not only will the planet choke you, it apparently will digest you too. A simple full-face breather will not cut it on the surface. I will have to wear a head-to-to environmental suit, the sort I needed on the surface of Europa.

            The crew think I am nuts for wanting to go down to Hypnale’s surface. Of course, they think anybody who lives on a planet to be held hostage from climate is nuts. Spacers have not touched the soil of Earth for generations. Most have not even bothered touching the surfaces of Luna or Mars, both worlds remade in Earth’s image. With Earth, the excuse is natural climate, with the other two worlds the excuse is the paraterraforming shield surrounding them. I cannot speak for Mars, but without that shield surrounding Luna, the atmosphere would be washed away by the solar winds like a comet.

            Going for a swim is out of the question as well. Not only are the oceans acidic, they also conduct electricity. Details are still sketchy, and shall remain so until I get close enough to launch a probe into the ocean. I will have to choose carefully whose probe I launched. You see, my being in the Lalande System is not completely my own doing. True, I badgered and harassed my way into the position, but I am funded by an assortment of universities back on Earth. Each one of them made me bring one of their probes along with me.

            How could I say no? Without their funding I could have bought the old heavy lifter that will serve as my lander, but I never could have afforded the extensive refit. What was once a cargo ship that long ago launched from the surface of Earth, is now a full-fledge biological laboratory. The old hulks were rendered obsolete once the first of Earth’s orbital towers was complete. Now days, any ship leaving Earth simply pushes off from the Ring. Come to think of it, I have no idea when the last ship actually left the surface of Earth.

            Some astronomers theorized any tidally locked planet would broil on one side and freeze out its atmosphere on the other. Hypnale is solid proof against that. Like the oceans, and detail on air currents will have to wait for my landing. However, from what the sensor reports say, the temperature is regulated by a simple convection from the sunward hemisphere to the starward one. Hot air rises, cold air sinks, and the pressure difference drives the current. I hope this does not prove to be a planet of endless wind. I loathe the wind, especially the chilly variety.

            The planet has a strange geology. There is a lone supercontinent that extends from beneath the sun all the way to the darkside, but it only does so on one side of the planet. The other side is all oceans from sun to stars. Seventy-seven percent of the planet’s surface is underwater. Given that the planet has a surface area one-and-a-half times greater than Earth, which is a lot of water to explore. Full oceanic charting will have to wait for a research colony.

            After two days, I think I earned a break. I toss the smart paper on a small desk in my quarters. No, the crew was not so gracious as to grant them to me. Since my lander sat in the Venture Star’s cargo hold, Captain Selma saw no reason why I could not simply live there. To do otherwise would only waste space. Spacers do not believe in wasting anything—except perhaps my time. They also do not believe in windows on spaceships. Even if I had a berth on the ship, I would not have much of a view.

            Instead, I have to settle for bringing up outside images on my lander’s viewers. I tap the nearest wall viewer, bringing up an image of outside. It might not be a window, but it was as close as I could get. Viewers had an advantage over old fashion windows. With a quick glance, I could tell there was nothing worth seeing to anybody but a cosmologist. With a quick swipe across the screen, I shift the view to a more pleasant scene. A blue-and-purple half marble comes into quick view.

            Hypnale is nowhere near as beautiful as Earth (or Luna or Mars), but it is still a fascinating display. I think Hypnale will never be viewed as beautiful. Though I grasp the concept of purple plants intellectually, it is still unnerving. I suppose no matter how educated I get, my mind will not so easily overcome billions of years’ worth of evolution. Many years will pass before any poetry proclaims the beauty of the amethyst waves of grain.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Day 1 on Hypnale

Something that's in its outline stage.

I slowly begin to regain my senses, but for the life of me I cannot remember where I am. Have I always been here? It certainly felt like I have been locked in this bubble for years. Yet, it also feels like I only entered it moments ago. The canopy of my bubble breached, letting in bright lights from without. For a second, I wonder if I am dead. No, if I were dead I would not have a wave of nausea, to say nothing of a pulsing headache. My memory was in no great hurry to return, and for the moment I am unsure of even my own name. The last thing I recall was entering this pod—

Now why did I do that? I usually have a pretty good reason to do anything. I have made it a point in life to not do anything without reason, or even say anything without reason. The latter I have not always been so successful, but the former had turned into part of my personal code. Once the bubble was fully opened, I took in my surroundings. Mine was not the only pod. Tens of pods lined either side of the narrow, metallic hallway. The hall is a rather sterile place, with smooth and glistening walls where bubble canopies did not protrude, as well as a long series of yellow lights. No, it was a room. I recall that all the rooms were narrow, as the ship I was upon was a long, slender object.

Yes, it was a ship. I remember now. I am a xenobiologist with a minor in biochemistry, and I boarded this ship at Earth Station. A smile came to my face as reality began to reform. I happen to be the only xenobiologists within eight light years of this place. I stepped from the pod which had been my ‘home’ for the past twenty-two years. It was not much of dormitory; just enough room for me to sit down and be removed from time. I have no idea how the stasis pod works (I am a student of the life sciences after all) save that it removes the user from time. By the calendars back home, I am twenty-two years older than when I started this voyage, but by my own physiology, I aged a few hours at the most. I suppose it is not a total loss that I cannot recall a second of my time in stasis.

My age is not all I notice. My weight seems off too. No, it is not just because I have not eaten a bite in over two decades. If my memory serves me correctly, and there will be no guarantee of that until the effects of stasis wear off, standard gravity onboard ships is five meters per second squared, about half that of Earth. Being born and raised on Earth, I notice these little things. The crew of the Venture Star are all Spacers, accustomed to this low gravity. I suppose having ships this low makes sense, given how many people live on Luna and the other moons.

Speaking of my fellow voyagers, I stumbled towards the nearest pod to check up on the crew. The room is so quiet, I wonder if I am the only one awake. This revelation breeds a horrifying thought. What if I am the only one awake and we are only halfway to Lalande 21185? Or worse yet, what if I am the only one alive? It would not be the first instant of a disaster in space. The first interstellar mission (Venture Star is the second ship) ended in the loss of the ship. Nobody ever did discover the fate of the Trail Blazer, and I really would not want to learn the hard way.

I peer into the nearest pod and let out a sigh of relief. It is empty. Naturally, if I were the only survivor then the pod’s occupant would still be inside, twisted in some agonizing death pose. I quickly check the pod across from it and discover it too is empty. As is the third and fourth pod. I stop my search after that. I do not require my advance degrees to figure out that I am probably the last of the ship’s compliment to be revived. Typical. I only hope they have not finished construction of the warp gate and headed back to Earth before reviving me.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Further publication.

I've managed to get The End on amazon now. The sooner I sell 88 of them, the sooner I can start making a profit. I do have to payoff registering the copyright after all. That leaves the iPad, which requires an Apple computer to publish. Oh well, you can't win them all.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

More about publishing.

I had to jump through a few loops to get the format correct, but I did manage to publish the first chapter of Stardust: Mylo via Smashwords. It's free, and for a good reason. I just want to get a sample of work out there and gauge people's reactions to it. I used Smashwords because it's suppose to have whatever is published there available for other e-book distributors. No, I haven't posted The End on it.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

It is finally published.

It took a couple of years, and a lot of "doesn't fit" (what on Earth is that suppose to mean anyway?) from magazines, but The End is finally published. It's on and its only in digital format. I really would have liked to see it in print, so I could frame the issue of Analog or whoever would have accepted it. Alas, if you want anything done at all, you have to do it yourself. So that's what I did; I self-published. I would have made it cheaper (it is just a short story after all), but the lowest price available is $0.99. That means (factoring in how much I get for royalties), I'll only have to sell about 90 of them to pay for the copyright. So if nintey people read this and buy it, I should just about break even.

Now, I'm going to have to clean up much of my other work, so I can publish it too.

The World in 1913

A further revision of An Alternate History of the Netherlands.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Stardust: Esperenso

This is a story I wrote back in 2000/2001, and have just now decided to post it. Why the long wait? Well I wrote it on a rather old computer with a rather old word processor. It needed a bit of cleaning up and reformating. No, it did not take more than a decade to do that. It is the first of the Stardust stories, and I think it is one of the better written ones too.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Status update.

It's been slow lately. Since I can't get access to the Wing Commander liscence, I don't see much point in writing more about it, no matter how much I like the franchise. I will, of course, salvage something from those writings since they are about original characters. An Alternate History of the Netherlands will need an overhaul to make it more realistic. So much so, it'll be a whole new story. How new? Let's just say it's hard to imagine an American Revolution with New Amsterdam cutting New England off from Pennsylvania and the southern Colonies. As for Hypnale, I wouldn't mind turning it into a story about the first expedition to the planet.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A more realistic world.

The beginning of a slow process of creating a more realistic world.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Scene from WC: End of Worlds

Captain’s Office
TCS Absolution
Granita System

Maxwell Powers loathed these meetings. Staring at the multi-screened monitor, he understood the need for teleconferencing while behind lines. The last thing Task Force 212 needed was a lucky strike by a Strakha on the Gemini to kill all the captains. That was not the issue. Each time he saw Commodore Harris on the screen, he was reminded of the personal snub to himself, and his ship. Abby was designed to be a flag ship, to service an Admiral and their entourage. She had the quarters as well as the work space. Instead, Harris chose the TCS Gemini as his flag. Powers could not deny the ship was newer; he could see that just by looking at the sleekness of the Ceres-class cruiser, compared to the bulky and ungainly figure of an Odin-class ship. And yes, it did have a modern sweep of optronics and communication arrays. All that was not the point. Gemini was not a battleship, or even a carrier. It was a cruiser!

As he fumed over the injustice, he vaguely listened to the status reports. He already knew most of this. Epsilon Prime was pasted and the task force took the closest jump point out of the system. The former capital of the Epsilon Sector would have to be quarantined for centuries, just to ensure the Kilrathi virus never escaped. He was briefed on the Life-Eater Virus, and knew it spread and killed fast. What was not clear, was what happened after the virus ran its course. Intel had some evidence that it went dormant, and had a half-life of five hundred years. The virus killed fast enough that there was little worry of a ship reaching any jump point before the crew died. After that, it would keep on drifting, shooting out of the system at around three PSL.

He visited Epsilon Prime before, earlier in his career, during the Enigma Sector Campaign. From their little quarter of Epsilon Sector, Confed struck at Kilrathi supply lines. Nothing as successful as what those escort carriers did a couple of years ago, but look what that lead to. Powers fought an urge to shake his head at the memory. Peace with the Kilrathi? It was laughable. The only way their could have been peace was over the Emperor’s, as well as the entire Kilrah Pride’s, dead bodies. Eliminating the top of their system would bring it all down. Intel discovered that from the various defectors over the years. The two Cats on his own ship agreed entirely. With the Kilrah Pride gone, the other big Prides would go at each other and forget all about humanity.

Instead– well, he did not have to relive that episode in his life. It was not the first time a politician made a mistake, but it was almost the last. Now he, and every other captain in the Terran Confederation Navy, were stuck with the consequences. It was another reason for the teleconference. This was a meeting between the Commodore and his captains. Here, with frequencies scrambled and offices secure, they can talk candid about the war. Which is to say, they can openly admit just how screwed humanity was in 2669. It was something a captain could never admit to his crew, despite the fact his crew knew the truth of war. Nonetheless, hearing such defeatist talk from their captain did the crew no good.

When the Commodore finished his own brief, and asked for questions, Powers was the first to speak up. “Of all the jump points we could have retreated to, why Granita? We’re effectively behind the Cats’ lines with no support.” Again, when it was just the captains, he could call their withdrawal from Epsilon exactly what it was.

What he said about lack of support was utterly true. If the Kilrathi struck in force, they would all be dead. Powers already ordered patrols flown out to ten light-seconds distance by his Epees. Hopefully, they would detect any cloaked fighters headed their way. Just why the Kilrathi would station such valuable fighter here, was beyond him. The chief technician even told him that extended patrols would just waste fuel, and he would be sorry if they ever needed it. Powers could only shrug to that. Better sorry than dead. Coupled with that, all passive sensors were set to full sensitivity. If even a simply hand radio were used in the system, Abby would pick it up.

As long as the fighters all came back, he would be happy. He was already down to eight pilots. He considered transferring a shuttle pilot to the fighter compliment, but the wing commander shot that idea down. None of the shuttle pilots were qualified on the Epee. Powers still ordered all his shuttle pilots to spend time on the simulators, getting themselves familiar with the point-defense fighter. When the Cats came, he wanted all of those fighters out in space. Confed should really supply its ships with backup pilots. If any other pilot decided to end his life, Absolution would be even deeper in dire straits.

Powers almost wanted to pray for no more suicides. Zollern just reported on a fifth one an hour before the Captain’s Meeting. This time somebody in the technical staff, thankfully. Technicians he had plenty. He was not sure about the situation on the other ships, save the Monrovia. Captain Sydney spoke of her first self-inflicted death a couple of days ago.

Speaking of Sydney, she spoke up after Powers. “Captain Powers raises a valid point. From here, it is a long way back to our lines.”

Captain Sydney was alright in Powers’s book. She was another vet of raiding in this sector. He met her before, while both were still junior officers. Since then, her face has put on many bags beneath her eyes, and her pulled back blonde hair was already streaked with gray. Powers knew he did not look much better. Nothing like the responsibility of command to double a person’s age.

Harris, his own face far more aged than any of his captains, answered. “Task Force two-twelve, like all others, has standing orders to track down any Intel on the Life-Eater. The Cats jumped in from this system.”

Powers frowned. Was this supposed to make him feel better? They have been in-system for well over a week, and the Kilrathi had not pursued them. That only made him worry more. “Commodore, are we expecting that Kilrathi fleet to jump back in anytime soon?”

Harris shook his head. “No Captain. I suspect the Cats will move on to another system, most likely Locanda.”

“You sound fairly confident, Commodore,” Sydney mirrored Powers’s own thoughts.

Harris shrugged. “Why waste time on a few ships trapped behind enemy lines. It’s not as if they couldn’t turn around at any time and destroy us. Besides, if I were their admiral, I’d be cutting through every Terran world I could.”

That was even less comforting. Powers ran through his mind everything he knew about Locanda. Was it the third or fourth planet that was populated? So much fighting occurred in that system, it seems like a waste of biological weapons to attack its planet. A type of area denial perhaps? Nothing left there to deny humanity anyway. Looks like that fleet will be Eisen’s problem. Powers knew Eisen only professionally. He was a steady captain, and at least his task force was built around a carrier– even if the Victory was almost as old as Abby.

“We’ll have to trust that the Victory’s task force can neutralize the threat to Locanda IV,” Harris continued, reminding Powers of the planet’s number. “We have more pressing matters to attend to,” he paused for a second while a map of the system appeared on a second viewer, this one built into Powers’s, and presumably the other captain’s, desk.

It was a standard star chart, nothing impressive about it. In the middle it showed Granita, a reddening star that recently– in astronomical terms– left its main sequence. Orbiting it were five planets, and a lot of debris. The system had jump points connecting with five other systems. A flashing red line appeared on the map, connecting the jump point to Epsilon with one to the K’ta Mek System, which was deeper inside the Empire. On that line, another flash of red, this one the icon of an enemy target.

“Intel has reported that the Mandarins are operating out of this system, and the only known base lies upon this trade lane. It’s likely the Kilrathi stopped off their to refuel; it would be far quicker than scooping fuel from a gas giant.” Which was exactly what the task force was currently doing– heading to Granita V to scoop up some hydrogen before carrying on with whatever mission Harris had planned. “The base is lightly defended, and relies upon camouflage for protection. Don’t ask me how Intel knows this, but they do. We’re going to hit this base, snatch up their computer cores and mine it for any information about Life-Eater.”

It seemed logical to Powers. Those traitors on that rock were biologically human, though their hearts were clearly tied to the Cats. They might have some sort of protection from the Life-Eater virus, especially if the Cats found them useful. If Mandarins do anything, it was make themselves useful to their furry overlords.

“What if the Cats are still lurking around this base?” asked the captain of the destroyer Kaitan.

Powers glared at his image on the map. What’s wrong, Montier? Can’t handle it? Powers and the Paris-born Montier, were bitter rivals, dating back to their years as junior officers. As with many rivalries among men, it started over a woman. At the time, both Powers and Montier were stationed on Fort Arnold, orbiting high above Earth. The object of both their affections was staffer in the Defense Department, working at Confed HQ in Damascus. A long story short, she chose Montier, and to this day, Powers can not think about them together without the acids in his gut boiling.

He long since quit carrying about her. Why should he? She was years dead, as were other staffers down on Earth, personnel on Fort Arnold, and even the city of Damascus were all long gone. Looking back, he would not have changed anything. Back in 2660, he was young and ambitious. Now, nine years later, he was married six years, had two children, and a nice house in Gatestown. Or what was left of it. As best as he knew, Montier only had the navy.

Despite candor, Harris was not impressed by this timidness. Destroyer captains were suppose to have a little more moxie than that. “Simple, Captain Montier. We destroy them. The Kaitan and Monrovia will join Gemini in keeping any enemy assets off the Absolution.” From the grimace on his face, Powers could tell Montier did not relish the fact of covering him. The disrespect between the two was fully mutual. However, since he only had the navy, he would carry out his duty to the end, no matter how distasteful.

Harris turned his face back to Powers. “Captain Powers, are your grunts up to it?”

Powers smiled. “Fear not, Commodore. Lieutenant Colonel Zollern will make sure the Marines do their job,” Even if he had personally to drag them off the shuttles and into the Mandarin base. Despite declaring he was nothing but a glorified sheriff, Powers had no doubt that Zollern might even lead the raid. If for no other reason than to escape the suicide reports.

“Excellent! That’s the sort of attitude we need right now, if we stand any chance of surviving the year.” All Captains duly noted that Harris said survive, and not win. None were of the delusion that an outright victory was possible. “Now, I’m going to have my staff beam over the plans for this operation. After I get your input, I’ll finalize it and we’ll brief division heads. If all goes well, we’ll be on our way back to our own lines within a week.”

Powers did not need to add the obvious, that if all did not go well, they would be too dead to worry about it.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Scene from Warriors' Pride #2

Chandler’s Front
Repleetah II

Kruq’nov knew it was but a matter of time before the Apes learned about the replacements. This time, more than two days have passed. It was slow for them. Whomever was on watch must have fallen asleep on his feet. Too bad he did not know that two days ago; a good raid would have lifted the dreadful monotony that smothered the trenches. Warfare was suppose to be glorious, not days worth of boredom punctuated by a few moments of sheer excitement and terror. Kruq’nov sat up against the wall upon a cushion he took during one of his raids on the Terran lines. The Apes sure were soft if they used this for bedding. Now that did not mean it was not comfortable, especially compared to the stone wall his back leaned against.

While cleaning his rifle, he kept one eye on the replacements. As he predicted, they were thoroughly convinced of their own superiority and that the Apes are nothing more than prey beasts, to be cut down where they stood. Kruq’nov could only shake his head at such foolishness. They will learn that Repleetah is a great equalizer; it butchers all sides equally. They will learn, that is if they live long enough. Of the five replacements, the youngest, Nrsah, had the most potential. His mind was still young enough that Kruq’nov could mold into a respectable soldier. The other four– no, there was little point in thinking about them. They would be dead soon enough.

A slight stab in his left arm brought down his right hand upon it. His claws searched through his short and dense forearm fur to find the culprit. The tiny bug crawled deftly from hair to hair. The Second Claw quickly ended the creatures life with the slash of a claw. Kruq’nov looked up from his rifle and arm, and sought out the barrack’s engineer. Krenka stood against the wall, his chin resting on his chest. His hair and mane had a distinct reddish hue, giving him an alien look among the mostly golden haired warriors of this barracks.

“Krenka!” Kruq’nov roared loud enough to shake his own mane. “The curtain is on the blitz again. Fix it before it lets in something more annoying than fleas.”

His ears perked up at the sound of his name, and Krenka slowly raised his head, shooting Kruq’nov a look of supreme indifference. “Nonsense. You probably caught those things when you went outside.”

Kruq’nov glowered at him. “You spawn of a rodent! Nothing can live in the trenches.” Not any more. He remembered when the Terran vermin called rats use to infest the trenches. Now days, they have only a few enclaves within shielded barracks. Annoying little creatures, with their squeaking, but they were far better eating than the rations the army gave him.

Krenka bared his teeth. “Those Sivar-cursed parasites can! I think nothing short of a direct hit from a fusion bomb would exterminate them. The only thing worse are cockroaches, and they can survive nuclear warfare.”

Typical parasites, surviving anything that would easily kill the host. If these fleas did get in, perhaps they came in on the backs of rats. Rare were the days when any creature could be seen outside and not be seen choking. He decided to lift himself off his cushion and search for any potential snacks running around on four legs. He worried not about anyone taking his seat; the last soldier who tried lost half his ear in the fight. Kruq’nov has not seen that soldier in a while, and assumed he was one of the anonymous dead littering the planet’s surface.

He began his search, only to be interrupted by a commotion on the other side of the atmospheric curtain. All the replacements quickly leapt to the feet, grabbing rifle and slipping on breather, before rushing outside. Kruq’nov shook his head, grabbing his own weapon. Stupid cubs; it was probably the Apes trying to bait the inexperienced out into no-man’s land. He slipped on his own breather across his muzzle and followed them outside. He might not be able to smell his enemy while wearing the mask, but at least he could not smell the reek of his own kind. Nothing makes a Kilrathi male want to kill more than being locked up with several other males for days on end.

As with so many times before, three of his replacements, as well as those from other squadrons, have already gone over the top. Nrsah was about to join them, both hands and a foot on the ladder, before Kruq’nov could stop him. The Second Claw ran to the cub, grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, and threw him to the ground. The cub landed with a thud in the dry caked earthen floor. He looked up quizzically, as well as slightly menacing, at his squadron commander.

Kruq’nov decided to let the disrespect slide. The Terrans killed enough of his warriors for him to take out any martial reprisals. “It’s a trap,” he told Nrsah in a flat, as-matter-of-factly tone.
Kruq’nov offered the young warrior a hand. “Get up. Watch and learn how these Apes play.”
Nrsah took the offered hand, and Kruq’nov jerked him to his feet, as if he was little more than a sack of jerky. “Second Claw, they are only prey, What is their to learn, other than more effective ways to kill them. I did not enlist to sit in a trench while others gain glory.”

This time, Kruq’nov did laugh. It was a dark and sinister laugh, one that a cub of Nrsah’s age might only hear in a horror movie. Sivar damn those propagandist back home. They probably killed more cubs than the Terrans. “Answer me this, Nrsah; if the Apes are nothing but prey, then why were they not slaughtered before either of us were born? Or even before your own father was born?”

“But, they are prey,” Nrsah spoke back, as if that one sentence contained all the answers.

Kruq’nov shook his head. “Have you ever hunted a Terran creature called a boar? No? I didn’t think so. They are prey too. But they have razor sharp tusks, and when cornered, they can eviscerate a predator. The Apes are the same, but they are cunning. They are sneaky. And their weapons are superb. Stick your head out of the trench at the wrong time, and one of their snipers will remove it. Never sell short your enemy. It could be the last mistake you ever make.” Kruq’nov glanced up at the rim of the trench. With an ambush in the works, the Terran snipers were probably watching it as well. Not to shoot, but for its entertainment value.

“It should be safe for now,” he said, poking his own head above the trench. When he was still breathing a few seconds later, he decided he was right. “I told you to look and learn!”

Nrsah slowly climbed the ladder high enough to see the rest of the world. The land that lay between opposing trenches could have been scooped off an airless moonlet and dropped on Repleetah. Octaves of craters, many as big as a Kilrathi, lay scattered in completely random patterns. A whole campaign’s worth of artillery bombardment destroyed the planet’s already fragile soil. Nothing would grow here again, not without intensive reclamation, or millions of orbits of natural healing.

As with so many times before, a pair of Terrans moved back towards their own lines, slowly and deliberately limping. Kruq’nov knew it was a ruse. They tried this shortly after he landed. Most on his replacement shuttle took the bait, and were killed. He did not. Even at the time, when he was just skeptical and not cynical, he knew something did not smell right about the situation. Why would Apes be out in the open like that?

The current batch of replacements— cannon fodder, did not think this. They had so little regard and respect for the Apes, that they have strapped their rifles to their back and were running them down. Not on two feet, like warriors would face off, but on all four, the way a Kilrathi would run down fleeing prey. It gave them greatly more speed, but took away their unnatural weapons. This was not an announced push, so the cubs were not wearing full E-suits, not like the Terrans. They had sense enough to do so.

Even if they had, they would still be dead. Kruq’nov has seen even veteran warriors reflexively extend their claws and tear their suits. That was why he fought hand-to-hand with the blades on his rifle. Keeping the enemy distant helped him control his own blood-lust. Terrans took full advantage of that as well. Any offense a Kilrathi warrior could throw at them, the clever Apes had a defense.

Both he and Nrsah watched as one Terran stumbled and fell, only to be picked up by his comrade. Kruq’nov knew it a ploy, one they have used often enough. Other veterans watched the spectacle, a few even laughed at the foolishness of the cubs. Yes, really fun watching all those sought after replacements throw their lives away. The three from his squad that leapt after them, Kruq’nov had not even learned their names. He gave up trying to match faces to names until after the recruits survived their first battle.

Halfway between the trenches, both Terrans went down a second time, this time into a crater. The recruits continued their pursuit, not even noticing the two-eights of Terrans popping up, eight on each of their sides, and opened up on them with their assault rifles. Plasma pulses at point-blank range seared the flesh of bones, and vaporized large portions of the replacements. All the cubs were dead in seconds.

With the Apes exposing themselves, Kruq’nov brought his rifle to shoulder level and decided to take a few shots at them. He squeezed off a burst of ionized gas, missing the Terrans, but catching their attention. Nrsah mimicked his Second Claw, taking his own careful aim at the Terrans. A beam rifle would be a more precise weapon at this range, or even an auto cannon. Nothing like hypersonic projectiles to turn flesh from living to dead. Within seconds, his whole section of the trench opened up on the Apes in no-man’s land. The section’s auto cannon went to work, chewing up the land around the Apes.

About an octomak away, the Terran trenches began to return their own ranged fire, attempting to cover their own people’s retreat. Kruq’nov watched with some satisfaction as three Terran ambushers went down, one in several pieces. He only hoped it was not the Ape Second Claw, or whatever they called the rank, Mac’Fearson. He was a sly one, an excellent leader of raids. If anybody in this trench would kill that Ape, it would be Kruq’nov. He only hoped they went hand-to-hand. It would be a great honor to kill such a warrior in single combat.

Almost as suddenly as it started, the firefight ended. Kilrathi climbed down from the rim of the trench and went back to their daily business. Nrsah looked up at Kruq’nov, disbelief on his face. He had just survived his first firefight. “I never imagines the Apes fight so fiercely. They fought like–“

”Warriors?” Kruq’nov offered. Nrsah bobbed his head in agreement. “You don’t need to imagine, you simply need to accept it. What they lack in brute force, they make up in cunning. Stop thinking of the Apes as prey, and start thinking of them as enemies. You do that, and you might even survive this place.” Kruq’nov would not tell a replacement that there was no hope for victory on Repleetah. Only survival.